RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Who needs Labour when Tory MPs seem to be intent on electoral hara-kiri!
Fifteen years ago, almost to the day, George Osborne was cheered to the rafters at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool as he unveiled his bold plan to slash taxes.
The then Shadow Chancellor announced that an incoming Tory government would raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million. Labour was always looking for ways to put up taxes, he declared. He would always look for ways to bring them down.
‘In Conservative Britain, you will not be punished for working hard and saving hard. You will not be penalised for wanting a better life for your children.’
After a decade of Labour domination, Osborne’s speech marked a turning point in Tory fortunes.
Despite being condemned as a ‘tax cut for the rich’, the plan proved wildly popular, not just in the conference hall but in the country as a whole.
The proposed reduction in inheritance tax was as symbolic as it was unexpected.
LITTLEJOHN: The new PM, having been elected by the Conservative Party membership, deserved better from her own MPs. Left to right: Andrew Griffith, Therese Coffey, Liz Truss and Nadhim Zahawi
Although it would only benefit a minority of wealthier taxpayers, it signified the Conservatives’ core philosophy of rewarding hard work and aspiration and letting people keep more of their own money.
Of course, it never happened. When the Tories did enter government, in 2010, they were in coalition with the Lib Dems, who refused to support it. Even when the Tories won an overall majority, the tax cut was quietly shelved.
That wasn’t the new Chancellor’s only headache. A month before he was booted out of No 10, Gordon Brown lobbed a cynical hand grenade at the incoming Government by raising the higher rate of income tax to 50p in the Pound.
Osborne wanted to abolish it, but was forced to compromise by his Coalition partners. The rate was lowered to 45p, still higher than it had been during all but a month of Labour’s 13 years in office.
Finally, less than a fortnight ago, an incoming Conservative Chancellor announced a long overdue return to 40p, as part of an ambitious mini-Budget which also cut the basic rate of income tax to 19p and pumped billions in energy bill subsidies to every household in the land.
Kwarteng had to perform one of the fastest reverse ferrets in political history, scrapping the cut in the top rate and issuing a grovelling apology
But yesterday, far from being cheered to the rafters, in the conference hall in Birmingham, Kwasi Kwarteng was forced to eat a super-sized slice of humble pie. Kwarteng had to perform one of the fastest reverse ferrets in political history, scrapping the cut in the top rate and issuing a grovelling apology.
It was always inevitable that the Left would howl about ‘Tory tax cuts for the rich’. And having seen off one PM, the rabidly anti-Tory broadcast media, especially, had trained their guns on another.
Timing, in politics as in comedy, is everything. Kwarteng and Liz Truss would, in hindsight, have been better advised to stay the announcement until after the Labour conference.
If Kwarteng had pulled his tax-cutting rabbit out of the hat in Birmingham yesterday, he might have been greeted with the same kind of reaction as Osborne received 15 years ago.
Yet with the social media-fuelled feeding frenzy in the Bubble, and the opportunist City boys filling their boots by shorting the Pound, threatening pension funds and mortgages in the process, he had to resort to sackcloth and ashes.
In the context of the hundreds of billions borrowed to pay for Covid and subsidise energy bills this winter, the £2 billion the restoration of the 40p rate would ‘cost’ the Treasury amounts to little more than a teardrop in a Jacuzzi. All the historical evidence suggests it would actually have increased the overall tax take.
Yet the Bubble, the rolling news channels, the City and, shamefully, a large number of Tory MPs, went into full Munch Scream mode.
The Pound may be hovering near parity with the dollar at the moment. But under a Labour government it would sink lower than the North Korean Won (pictured: Starmer at the Labour Party Conference last week)
Michael Gove, who only recently said he was finished with politics and was last seen pogoing round a disco in Aberdeen, declared that cutting the top rate was ‘not Conservative’.
How did he reach that conclusion? What’s Conservative about the highest tax burden in 70 years and a top rate of income tax above anything levied by the last Labour government?
Come to that, what’s remotely Conservative about Grant Shapps, the former Transport Secretary, who would clearly be happier in the Lib Dems, if not Labour? He, too, condemned the 40p plan.
Shapps is the private plane-flying, Extinction Rebellion poster boy who — after the Tories promised to end the war on motorists — bunged £250 million of taxpayers’ money to Left-wing councils to set up a network of car-free, jam-creating, pollution-generating Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.
These two former ‘big beasts’ were joined by recalcitrant Remainers, embittered Sunak supporters and Northern backbenchers doing their best impression of headless chickens.
Frankly, I can’t help wondering how many of those Red Wall MPs who swept to Westminster on the tail of Boris Johnson’s Get Brexit Done election were ever proper Conservatives in the first place.
If Kwarteng had pulled his tax-cutting rabbit out of the hat in Birmingham yesterday, he might have been greeted with the same kind of reaction as Osborne received 15 years ago
Despite owing their seats to Boris, many of them conspired with Remainiacs to bring him down. Now they appear to be hell-bent on destroying Liz Truss for the heinous crime of putting more take-home pay in their constituents’ pockets and subsidising energy bills which are rising through no fault of this Government.
With friends like these . . .
OK, so mortgage rates are going up, but that was going to happen whoever was in power, having been kept artificially low ever since the world banking crash in 2008.
Despite benefiting personally from the higher-rate tax cuts and the lifting of the cap on bankers’ bonuses, the amoral City traders simply couldn’t resist cashing in on the turmoil. It’s what they do.
The hysterical TV bit of the Bubble has got far too fond of shouting ‘When are you going to resign?’ as a substitute for proper journalism, so they were never going to cut Liz Truss any slack.
But the new PM, having been elected by the Conservative Party membership, deserved better from her own MPs. It used to be said that loyalty was the Tories’ secret weapon.
At least it was until the schism over Brexit, which should have been ended by Johnson’s landslide victory in 2019. This week, however, was time to bind and heal, not start squealing like stuck pigs.
Instead the bookies are taking bets on when Fizzie Lizzie is taken out and shot
Yes, there’s some justification in suggesting the cut in the top rate could have been better timed, perhaps delayed until a full Budget in the New Year when Truss and Kwarteng had got their feet firmly under the table. Instead the bookies are taking bets on when Fizzie Lizzie is taken out and shot.
After all, the frightening alternative is a Labour government led by a cardboard cut-out who spent years trying to reverse the Brexit vote and put Marxist Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.
Starmer has no credible economic plan of his own. If you think taxes are high now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Standing in front of the Union Flag and singing God Save The King, with your fingers crossed behind your back, isn’t any kind of substitute for proper policies.
The Pound may be hovering near parity with the dollar at the moment. But under a Labour government it would sink lower than the North Korean Won.
Truss and Kwarteng are at least attempting to reverse the economic decline which has been allowed to develop under successive Tory administrations. For all his fine intentions, Osborne failed to follow through, even after shedding the Lib Dem shackles.
The over-praised Sunak was forced to borrow big because of Covid and landed us with the highest tax bills since Clement Attlee’s socialist spending splurge seven decades ago. After last week’s Labour conference, some commentators suggested that Starmer was being manipulated by Blair-era operators.
Looking at the behaviour of the Tories over the past few days, it would appear much of the Conservative Party is singing from the Blair/Mandelson songbook, too. They seem to have swallowed the entire New Labour settlement whole. They must have a death wish, as they appear determined to commit electoral hara-kiri.
Who could ever have imagined that a party with a massive 80-seat majority would unravel so spectacularly?
Or that a hand grenade lobbed by Gordon Brown would detonate in the faces of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham 12 years later?